Germany Stops Facebook in Gathering Data From Other Social Media Websites

Andrew Cummings
February 9, 2019

German antitrust authorities have issued a ruling prohibiting Facebook from combining user data from different sources. "While we've cooperated with the Bundeskartellamt for almost three years and will continue our discussions, we disagree with their conclusions and intend to appeal so that people in Germany continue to benefit fully from all our services", said Facebook. "Users are often unaware of this flow of data and can not prevent it if they want to use the services", she told Reuters.

Rather than requiring users to accept that such data can be folded into their Facebook accounts under a one-off agreement to the social network's terms and conditions, users must in future be asked for their specific consent in both cases, the authority said. The office demanded Facebook has to seek German users' explicit consent to collect and combine this kind of data, according to CNN.

The ruling from the German competition regulator (FCO) comes after the body declared it believes Facebook took advantage of its market dominance to gather up huge amounts of user data.

The FCO has ordered Facebook to come up with proposals for how it can do this, and if it fails to comply, the regulator will have the capacity to impose fines of up to 10% of the company's annual turnover, a significant hit. The decision is not about Facebook's processing of data generated by its own site, which the Cartel Office acknowledged is the business model for data-based social networks such as Facebook. It's seemingly one of the reasons advertisers have stuck by Facebook despite numerous scandals over the last couple of years; there are very few other platforms or businesses which can offer advertising services on par.

Secondly, the collection of data from third-party websites and assigning them to a Facebook user account will only be possible if users give their voluntary consent.

Antitrust lawyer Thomas Vinje, a partner at Clifford Chance in Brussels, said the Cartel Office ruling had potentially far-reaching implications.

In response, Facebook said the Cartel Office failed to recognise that it competes with other online services, such as Google-owned video app YouTube or Twitter, the short-messaging service, for people's attention.

While Facebook is less widely used in Germany than in some other western countries, it has 32 million monthly active users in a population of 83 million and controls more than 95 per cent of the country's social media. In... The FCO also said Facebook is responsible for an "exploitative abuse" of its market power.

'Using information across services helps to make them better and protect people's safety.

Facebook specifically notes that the FCO's rulings on data sharing are, in its opinion, incorrect, and potentially restrictive for the platform's German users.

Likewise, the Facebook Login, which lets users avoid having to type in a unique username and password for each service, shares similar device-identifying information. "Voluntary consent" means that access to the service can not be limited to users who consent: if users do not consent, Facebook may not exclude them from its services but will have to substantially restrict its collection and combining of data from different sources.

Sandra Wachter, a lawyer and Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, earlier said (to WIRED) that Facebook's plan to merge the platforms is bound to trigger privacy concerns.

Other reports by iNewsToday